TWOC

My catheter has been in for 3 weeks now, and it’s been horrible.

It itches and scratches inside me. It prevents me from lying in any position except flat on my back, when everyone who’s ever tried to sleep with me has found out I prefer to lie face down like a little baby.

And if I do manage to nod off in an uncomfortable position with a pipe scratching the inside of my penis, I’m woken up every 2 hours to have the saline bag changed.

So I’d been looking forward to TWOC day. TWOC is Trial Without Catheter, which basically means they take it out and see if I can pee. Over the last few days the saline has been coming out increasingly pale pink, like a Rosé in a nightmarish restaurant, and now it’s totally clear. It looks like I’m no longer bleeding, and can go home until my surgery.

So they whip out the catheter (deep breath, hold it, then breathe out fast as they pull 30cm of tube out of me). Then a nurse watches me drink 2 litres of water, which I have to pee out into a jug so they can be sure it’s all working, and no more blood clots are present in my bladder.

2 hours later and it’s all going terribly wrong. A tiny dribble and a couple of hard, nasty clots thudding into the jug. Pain is coming back, like it did the day I was admitted. Oooof. This is bad. Oooof. Oh my God. Oh my serious God.

A nurse tries to put the catheter back in to relieve the pressure, but it’s absolute agony. The tube won’t go in, and it’s about 8mm across, and she’s trying to push it a hole that has closed tight. She can’t get my urethra to open up. She shoves harder and harder, but it’s just like being slowly stabbed with a blunt knife in the most sensitive part of my most sensitive parts. It’s clearly not working, and the pain is getting worse, and I’m making noises that are scaring other patients.

After 2 more brief attempts she gives up and calls for a doctor. In he rushes, with a sweat on, and in full surgical gowns – he was just about to start an operation when he was called to me. He’s Polish and unfeasible blonde and handsome. He looks like an extra from something American; I can’t remember what but it’s a programme I hate, and now they’re giving me a huge dose of morphine and examining my cock. I’m naked and hurting and making intermittent squeaking noises that I’m trying to suppress; and there are 5 nurses and a doctor bending over looking at my penis, which has shrivelled to walnut in response to the mixture of pain, fear and cold.

Here comes the morphine. It’s not a high, it’s something else. It’s very nice. It’s a sense of being outside, just watching. Yes, there’s pain, but somehow that’s fine. The Polish doctor pinches my cheek, looks at my eyes, and starts again with the catheter.

Oof. Even the morphine isn’t doing anything for that. He can’t make it go in. The morphine makes his voice seem a long way away, but I hear him say “get a theatre ready”, and I say “I can’t go to the theatre dressed like this”, and he smiles like he’s never heard it before, which perhaps he hasn’t. Did I just make it up? Why won’t my brain work properly?

But the pain is coming back, and he scans my bladder and says he may have to do it here. I later found out that my bladder was in danger of rupturing because of the amount of liquid in it, and he was considering just slicing it open without anaesthetic, right there on the bed, because it’s a safer option.

But then someone brings gas and air, and my morphine haze gets really weird. My ears are buzzing, and someone squeezes the glans at the head of my penis to force the urethra open. Someone says “hold him” and 4 male nurses put their hands on my shoulders and thighs, and everything goes bright and sharp for about 2 seconds. And then it’s over. The catheter is in, and I’ve already filled one bag.

They’re putting another on, which I fill immediately. I’m filled with gratitude, and tell the Polish doctor that I hate him for what he just did, which I assume he’ll realise is a joke, but he looks genuinely offended. I try to apologise and explain, but the morphine is making me nod out, and my mum, brother and girlfriend have arrived to visit.

I found out later that they were stood just outside of my curtained-off bed, listening to me screaming. I didn’t know I was. My mum was in tears, and my girlfriend still won’t talk about it.

It turns out that catheters aren’t supposed to feel as itchy and scratchy as mine did. I had an allergic reaction to the latex tube, and the inside of my urethra had blistered and swollen. When they took out the catheter the hole clamped tight shut, so nothing could come out, and nothing could go in.

I had pain all through the night: bladder cramps brought on by the stress it was put under earlier in the day. A hugely sympathetic and wonderful Filipino nurse sits with me in the small hours, and holds my hand while I have a little cry. I tell her I’m ashamed of myself, and she tells me I shouldn’t be. Medical staff give marks out of 10 for pain. Childbirth is an 7, but bladder cramps are a 9. I ask what a 10 is, but she won’t tell me. I have a ghastly imagination, and all I can think of is the bloody stumps and the London bombings.

I now have an answer for any woman who uses the lazy “agony of childbirth” argument.

They’re not going to try another TWOC. I’m here until the operation. And Doctor Who starts on Saturday. I’ll miss it. Damn.

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Breaking the news

Last night I slept like a baby. In fact it was a lovely evening all round.

I can barely see any of the real world from my hospital bed, but the tiny corner of sky was clear, bright blue, a Californian day in Stockport.

The lunatic who has spent the last 3 days calling for a cup of tea every 20 minutes, day and night, has died. Yay. The whole ward celebrated.

And I re-read a big chunk of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which I hadn’t read for about 10 years. I’d forgotten how brilliant it is: insightful, touching, clever and with big things to say about big important subjects. But more than all of that, it’s probably the funniest book ever written. I remembered many of the jokes, but not all of them – there are many – and even the familiar ones are so beautifully rich and unexpected that there’s a little delight in appreciating the art of the writer. The skill. The craft.

I’d have pissed myself laughing if my cock wasn’t full of tubes and having 300 litres of saline sluiced thought it every day.

So in spite of the cancer diagnosis, I felt good yesterday, and had a very nice evening. Now for the tough part – telling everyone. Honestly, I’m not being a tough guy: finding out I had cancer didn’t bother me one bit. I already kinda figured it out before they told me, although I didn’t know where or how big. So none of it has bothered me.

In fact the only surprising thing is how unsurpised I’ve been. I thought I might be in shock about it, so I took myself into a little room in my mind, sat myself down, and had a long serious talk about it.

Scene: Interior, day, Mole Rat’s brain. Mole Rat’s Ego and Id sit around a table with a swinging lightbulb above it. His Id has an erection, the sick puppy.

Id: You’ve got that fucking cancer, mate.

Ego: Yes, I know. Will you put that way, or think of something else at least?

Id: And it’s massive.

Ego: It’s not THAT big. Oh, the cancer. Yes, I know. Please hide your erection, it’s disturbing me that I find my own penis attractive.

Id: I always knew you were gay.

Ego: I’m not gay, that’s just my Id running wild inside my subconscious. My SuperEgo knows I’m not gay.

SuperEgo: Don’t bring me in on this, I’m not even in this scene. And anyway, I’m not a Freudian; I’m more into Jung.

Id: Paedophile!

SuperEgo: Jung! With a J. You animal.

Ego: Can we all just put away our cocks and have a serious conversation, for once?

Id: I don’t think so, I’m your Id, My cock is always visible and always hard.

Ego: I’m closing my eyes in case I accidentally discover I AM gay, and have to tell SuperEgo.

SuperEgo: Not listening!

Id: Aren’t you frightened? Cancer could kill you. Leave you disabled. Unable to work. Scarred, bald and dying in a chemo-chair in Christies.

Ego: Everything you say is true, but what can I do about it? Nothing. So why worry?

Id: Well, you’re a bigger man than I am.

Ego: Oh, that’s very nice of you. Although I can’t help but notice your penis is actually much bigger than the real thing, in which case I’m actually a smaller man than you are.

Id: Will you stop thinking about sex?! You big gay freak.

End of scene.

Maybe I’d come to grips with cancer a bit more if I wasn’t thinking about sex all the time.

Anyway…

Telling my mum? Phew, that’s hard. The conversation in my brain was too scary, and I didn’t want my Id turning up with an erection while mum was in the room. So I made my brother tell her.

Chickening out

Mum has Parkinson’s and can barely make it across the living room, so she’s not going to be able to get to the hospital to see me. I can’t go home to see her, I’m still having my bladder sluiced out and am tied to a drip by my poor, shrivelled, suffering tallywacker (can’t they make these tubes any more confortable?).

So I called my brother; he can go and visit mum and tell her in person. She’s bound to have a cry and need an arm around her, and my dad is too busy being dead, so brother will have to do it.

Brother is a busy man, a senior exec at a huge, market-dominating company. In other words, a he’s a bastard. But he always has time to answer the phone to me with a few kind words.

Brother: Fuck off, you scrotum.

Mole Rat: You feckless cunt.

Brother: What do you want now? Can’t you leave me in peace?

Mole Rat: I’m in hospital.

Brother: Nothing trivial, I hope?

Mole Rat: Are you sat down?

Brother: Oh… OK. Now I am.

Mole Rat: They’ve found a large mass on my right kidney. I asked to see it but Windows Vista wouldn’t let me. So their poet in residence desribed it for me as “Big. Very big”.

Brother [talking in his unrealistically deep “I’m being serious” voice]: OK. I’m on my way.

Mole Rat: No, just go and tell mum, will you? And fuck off too. Go on. Off you fuck.

He fucked off.

And then I made a virtually identical call to my girlfiend’s parents, but with less profanity (at least on my part). So brother is driving over to tell mum, and girlfriend’s dad is driving over to tell girlfriend.

One less thing to do. Now, back to Catch-22…

Cancer? You’ve GOT to be kidneying me!

Still in hospital, and now I’ve been moved to a urinary specialism ward. I’m the youngest person here by at least 35 years, and the only one who’s teeth don’t regularly fall out and skid across the lino. I also seem to be the only one who isn’t either:

  • Incontinent
  • Mad
  • Incontinent and mad

Until now I hadn’t called my mum to tell her about any of this hospital stuff. No point in worrying her; she worried enough that time I went out in the wind and got a runny eye. She’d be a panicking, vibrating mess if she knew I was in hospital.

And yesterday a specialist came to see me, poked and prodded me for a while, and announced that it was 99% certain to be a kidney stone which had nicked a vein, causing a little bleeding. Painful, inconvenient, but completely treatable. I should be out in 2-3 days. So why bother my mum about it?

They did a little scan to find the stone…

… and couldn’t.

“Not to worry”, said Mr Specialist, “that’s quite normal. It might be too small to be found using this scanner. Let’s send you for an X-ray”.

So I stayed in another night. All very embarrassing. I don’t own pyjamas, so they gave me a hospital gown which is custom designed for male rape. It ties up at the back, but with a gap of around 8 inches through which my inviting little rectum peeps out. And I can’t twist my lumpen, rugby body around to reach the little tie-cords behind me, so I have to ask a nurse to do it. It’s humiliating.

So after another night in hospital, with about 10 minutes of sleep because of the howling lunatic 5 beds away, this morning they sent me down the hall to get an X-ray. Waddling barefoot around the hospital with a drip-stand clearly delivering a tube up my cock, and my arsehole winking at the world. Oh joy.

X-ray done, I went back to bed and tried to have a sleep, but they just won’t leave you alone in hospital. I must have been asked my name about 100 times. I’ve already started to get fed up with it, and am trying to find ways to entertain myself by confusing the staff:

Scene: Interior, day, a hospital ward. Mole Rat lies in bed, and is approached by a gaggle of doctors doing the rounds.

Mole Rat: I suppose you’re wondering why I invited you all here this morning

Gaggle: [bemused silence]

Mole Rat: Oh, never mind. Carry on, Nurse.

End of scene.

And here’s the big news

Half an hour ago I was trying to sleep when a nurse told me the doctor wanted to see me. She asked me to go to his office near the nurse’s station. Hmm: news which must be delivered in private. Bad news. And as soon as I thought “bad news” I thought “cancer”. And then I realised I had an answer to a question that had squatted at the back of my mind for more than a year.

Last year my dad died, having had all manner of things go wrong with him in the previous decade. He’d got diabetes, then he’d gone 90% blind. He had a severe stroke, which left him in a coma for 2 weeks, but from which he’d made a very good recovery, but was pretty weak. He’d had renal failure and had to go on dialysis 3 days per week for 4 years. And then finally, he’d had a couple of heart attacks over the course of a weekend, and karked it.

Lightweight.

I’d often wondered what would kill me. Not in a morbid way, just kind of curious. We all die. Would it be Parkinson’s disease, which my mum has, and her mum before her? Diabetes? Stroke? Heart attack? Raped to death by the Brazilian women’s beach volleyball team? Or, in this invitingly arseless gown, by the Brazilian men’s beach volleyball team?

Now I had an answer. Cancer. And then I was fine, and I knew how to deal with it all.

All this went through my brain before I’d got off the bed to walk to the doctor’s office. So when I got there and he told me they’d found a very large mass on my right kidney, my response was “Yep”. And then I asked to see it.

Typically, I couldn’t because he couldn’t operate his crappy Windows Vista laptop, so he had to describe it to me. “Big”, he said. “Very big”.

I suppose they pay him to be a doctor, not for his descriptive powers.

So the proximate cause of my death will be cancer. Unless, of course, that Brazilian women’s beach volleyball team gets here quick. Here’s hoping!

A funny thing happened on the way to the bathroom…

I woke up this morning (“da-da-de-da-dum” blues riff) and went to the loo, and my urine was dark red.

This, it has to be said, is not normal for me.

I felt fine, just as I always do, but it was a bit of a concern, so I called my GP and made an appointment for later that afternoon. Then I got on with a couple of hours work, and didn’t think about it much.

At 4:00 I went to see my GP, a flustered 30-something woman with the air of a disappointed flautist about her; all whispy hair and cardigans, and a faint yearning expression that makes you realise she’d much rather be at home with her cat and some sheet music.

Normally you hope your GP is organised, responsible, sympathetic and calm. I showed her my bright red urine sample and she said “Oh my God, is that yours?”. Then she stood up, walked in a small circle, and sat back down again like a dog being startled by a spider. She held her hair in two fists and stared at my sample like she had no idea what to do next.

I think she needs to review her bedside manner.

Because she remained so calm and did such a good job of hiding her concern, I came away with the distinct impression that I – and most of my family and friends – will be dead in a week. She made an emergency appointment to go to my local hospital in 2 days time, and I got back in the car to drive home. I still felt fine apart from a serious giggly fit about how terrible my doctor is.

But by the time I’d got home 5 minutes later I wasn’t laughing. I had really serious abdominal pain. It felt like I needed to piss so badly that I was about to rupture. I found myself moaning involuntarily.

Now, I’m a big tough northern bloke who used to box and play in a decent amateur rugby team. I’ve broken bones, fallen out of trees and down hills, been hit by boxers, by rugby players, by medecine balls, and on one unfortunate walk to school, by a car. But none of it was like this.

Pain is very hard to describe. We’re biologically programmed to forget how it feels, because if we remembered we’d never do a dangerous thing again. And animals often need to do dangerous things, like fight tigers, give birth, and try to steal a pint off girls from Leeds.

So it’s hard to put into words how it felt. But if you’ve ever slammed a finger in a door you’ll know there’s a cold, sharp, instant slice of pain, which lasts a millisecond. Then there’s a brief painless moment of shock, and then a long, slow ballooning throb.

Well, my pain was that initial cold slice, but it didn’t end. The shrill moment of pain just went on and on and on. And then on. I could barely walk. I couldn’t get up the stairs. I collapsed in the hallway, and my girlfriend had to half-carry me to the bathroom to piss.

But I couldn’t piss. I just wasn’t happening. And the pain was getting worse and worse. I was sweating so much my tattoo slid down my arm and onto the floor.

999. Flashing lights. Going the wrong way up a duel-carriageway to get me to hospital. The paramedics offered me morphine in the back of the ambulance, but I declined. I now know how stupid that was. If a paramedic offers you morphine it’s because you need it. Take it. It’s brilliant. Vivid, vivid dreams about (of all things) sherbet bon-bons.

At the hospital I was rushed through triage and straight into a treatment room, where I lay down for as long as I could, about 3 seconds. And then I started doing what women in labour do – stand up, lean on a wall, lift my leg up and twist in strange ways. Anything to find that comfortable position.

A doctor came in and squeezed my bladder, and it hurt so much I nearly punched his fucking lights out. He came back with a syringe full of morphine, which he forced into my mouth. And before it had had a chance to work, he got a 8mm thick tube and forced it up my penis. That wasn’t the best thing to happen to me all day, but it did the trick.

I immediately urinated thick dark blood down the tube and into a bag, and kept urinating like this for several minutes. The human bladder holds about 750ml of liquid. Mine had almost 3 litres in it. It was coming out so fast they couldn’t change the bag it was emptying into fast enough, and the treatment room ended up looking like an abbatoir.

Preventing people from weeing, I later found out, was a highly successful method of torture during WW2. I’m sure it was. It would work on me!

The pain eased off, and I just felt limp and bruised and wet and useless. Men, I think, are used to being physically in control. This was the first time in my adult life that I felt things were getting away from me.

I was attached to a drip, which fed 3 litres of saline per hour up my uretra into my bladder, washing away the blood. They still didn’t know where the blood was coming from, but it was stil coming. Some of it had congeiled in my bladder, causing cramps and preventing me from urinating and building up pints of blood behind it – that was what caused the pain.

And then I was moved to another ward, and told I had to stay in for the night and have more tests tomorrow.

An exciting day!